Are There Sharks in Hawaii Waters? (How to Stay Safe)

Hawaii is home to roughly 40 different species of sharks, ranging in size from the pygmy shark (about 8-10 inches) to the great white shark (over 20 feet long). Over the last 100 years, there have been 116 confirmed shark attacks and 8 fatal encounters.

Which begs the question, how safe are you from sharks in Hawaiian waters? The answer is VERY SAFE. Although sharks do exist in Hawaiian waters (actually, they can be found in every ocean in the world) the chances of spotting one is incredibly rare.

In this article we are going to share everything you need to know about sharks in Hawaii, from the different types of sharks to our top safety tips – here is what you need to know before visiting Hawaii.

How common are shark attacks in Hawaii?

Shark attacks in Hawaii are extremely rare. Since 1828, there have been 116 confirmed shark attacks and 8 fatal encounters. That’s less than one attack per year, and a fatality roughly every 20 years.

Considering the thousands of people that swim in Hawaiin waters every day, that’s some significantly low odds. Statistically, you have more chance of drowning. On average, 60 people die in Hawaii each year from drowning.

Shark attacks are presented in the media to be these dangerous creatures reaching out from the depths of the ocean to hunt and kill people. In truth, there is no evidence to suggest that sharks are actively hunting humans. Most attacks occur from sharks just exploring their territory and mistaking a human for one of the fish they would actually like to eat.

If you’re still concerned about sharks in Hawaii, then don’t worry, we’re going to share some safety tips with you later in this article to show how you can avoid a shark attack.

Where are most shark attacks in Hawaii

Where are most shark attacks in Hawaii?

Most shark attacks in Hawaii occur on the island of Maui. There have been 51 reported incidents in the last 20 years, five of which have proved fatal.

O’ahu is the second most dangerous island for sharks, with 29 attacks reported in the last 20 years, although no deaths have been reported.

Humans are not a sharks favourite meal. They prefer fish, seals, turtles, and whales. However, sharks have to make a fast decision to hunt food and, sometimes they misinterpret humans for their natural food choice.

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You should not avoid going in the water out of fear of sharks. Thousands of people enter the waters every day and they don’t get attacked.

What sharks are in Hawaii?

reef whitetip hawaii

There are roughly 40 different species of shark in Hawaii, but only eight are considered to be common near the shores. These include the Reef Whitetip, Sandbar, Scalloped Hammerhead, Galapagos, Grey Reef Shark and the Tiger Shark.

Whitetip reefs are small sharks and do not usually exceed 5 foot in length. They tend to be found in depths of 25 feet and deeper, and can usually be spotted near coral reefs. These sharks are rarely aggressive towards humans.

The Sandbar shark is rarely found at the surface, and most often found at depths of between 60 to 200 feet. Although they pose little to no threat to humans, their size makes them potentially dangerous. Adults can grow up to an impressive 7 feet in length. Sandbar sharks mainly feed on smaller fish found at the bottom of the water.

Scalloped Hammerhead sharks are fairly harmless to humans and they are usually quite shy. They can grow up to 14 feet in length and weigh up to 300 pounds. These sharks prefer the deeper waters and can be found in depths of over 500 meters.

The Galapagos shark is regarded as potentially dangerous to humans and should be avoided wherever possible. These sharks are known for their fearlessness and can be aggressive towards humans at times. Adults can grow up to 11 feet in length.

The grey reef shark is one of the most aggressive sharks, but will usually only attack a human when provoked or feels threatened. They are found mostly in the northwest of Hawaii, and they prefer shallow tropical waters near corals and lagoons.

Are sharks dangerous in Hawaii?

The most dangerous sharks in Hawaii are tiger sharks, and they’re responsible for the majority of shark attacks on the Big Island. As they regularly swim in shallow waters such as reefs, the likelihood of an encounter with a human is greatly increased.

Tiger sharks are one of the largest shark species on earth, second only to the great white. It can reach lengths of up to 15 feet and weigh close to 2,000 pounds. There is almost nothing in the ocean that can escape the jaws of this terrifying beast. They feast on seals, birds, dolphins, and are even known to take on injured or ailing whales. Their size, strength, and predatory attributes make these creatures highly dangerous.

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Swimming in areas known for tiger shark presence can result in serious injuries and even death.

How can we avoid sharks in Hawaii?

water safety tips hawaii

Hawaiian waters are generally safe, however, to decrease your already small chances of a shark attack, we have compiled the following safety tips.

  • Avoid entering the water at night – sharks are most active at night as it’s their prime feeding time, and can see you even when you can’t see them.  
  • Don’t enter the water if you are bleeding – sharks can smell blood from up to a quarter of a mile away and can hunt down the source.
  • Avoid swimming in areas known for tiger shark presence – if sharks are spotted, leave the waters immediately.
  • Don’t wear shiny jewellery – the reflection from shiny jewellery could be mistaken for fish scales.
  • Swim only in clear and calm waters – this way, you will be able to spot danger from far away.
  • Avoid wearing bright swimsuits – to prevent being mistaken for a sharks lunch, avoid wearing bright swimsuits (especially yellow).
  • Don’t splash around in the water too much – in a sharks brain, this sudden movement must be a wounded or stranded animal.
  • Swim in groups – sharks tend to favour lone individuals.

Is it safe to swim in Hawaii?

blacktip shark

Swimming in Hawaii is generally safe, although certain ocean conditions can make the beaches hazardous for swimming, such as high tides, dangerous shore breaks, and heavy current.

There is allegedly one death per week in Hawaii waters, with snorkelling being the biggest activity associated with drowning. You can minimise your risk in the water by being aware and respectful of dangerous ocean conditions, and only choosing to swim at beaches with a lifeguard present.

The key is not to evade the water in Hawaii, but to be respectful of the dangers and to not let the ocean fool you.

More Hawaii Travel Guides:      

Dangerous Animals in Hawaii
Mosquitoes in Hawaii
Best Hikes in Hawaii
One Week in Hawaii


James Ardimento has spent the last 12 years journeying around the globe ! With its precious experiences and tips he gained around Asia, South America, Europe and the US he is a precious asset for this blog and for its readers